What To Do When You Are Feeling Incompetent at Work

Reflect on the positives

Individuals are often hardest on themselves, which can affect your confidence at work. Focusing on what you did wrong may only emphasize your feelings of incompetence. Rather than spending time criticizing yourself for your mistakes or shortcomings, set time aside to reflect on your strengths.

How to build confidence at work (what to do when you feel dumb or stupid at work)

The four stages of competence

Feeling uneasy about your abilities as you start a new job or undertake a new task is normal. There are four levels of competence that you progress through as you learn these new abilities, ideas, or behaviors. These four stages consist of:

Signs that you’re feeling incompetent at work

Incompetence refers to an individuals inability to complete a task. You might not always be familiar with everything when beginning a new job or accepting a new responsibility. Your self-esteem and confidence at work may suffer if you make mistakes or experience setbacks. In some instances, these emotions might influence how you view your work and cause burnout.

When you first start out, your managers or coworkers may not fully understand the scope of your abilities and experiences, so they may ask you to complete tasks that you have never completed before. The experience may cause stress and feelings of incompetence even though they don’t intend to cause problems. Other scenarios that might make you feel incompetent at work include the following:

How to manage feeling incompetent at work

If you’re having trouble at work, you can frequently find ways to make things better. To get over feeling incompetent at work, follow these steps as a guide:

1. Accept your feelings

Discomfort is typical in new situations, as demonstrated by the four stages of competence. Be aware that you might initially feel uneasy or incompetent when taking on a new role or responsibility. You can convince yourself that just because you didn’t succeed the first time doesn’t make you a failure; rather, it just means you’re still learning. You’ll become more at ease and confident in your abilities as you perform that task as you gain experience and practice. Setting these goals can assist you in realizing that these emotions are common and help you let go of the need to be flawless.

2. Reflect on the positives

You might find it challenging to accept your feelings and actions at times. People are frequently the hardest on themselves, which can undermine your confidence in the workplace. Concentrating only on your mistakes might make you feel even more incompetent. Set aside some time to consider your strengths rather than spending time criticizing your flaws or mistakes. You can keep track of any favorable comments or interactions you have throughout the week. You should have a list by the end of the week to look back on and be reminded of what you do well.

Considering your advantages can help you feel more confident and motivated at work. For instance, you might have thought that a presentation was ineffective. However, a coworker might have praised you for the intriguing graphics you included. Although you might want to concentrate on honing your public speaking abilities, you now understand that others value your eye for visual design. Feeling appreciated can make work more enjoyable and inspire you to improve other skills.

3. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes

When lacking confidence, you might compare yourself to your coworkers. For instance, if you are a new member of the team, you may feel less confident because they have more expertise than you do. Try to keep in mind, though, that everyone experiences all four levels of competence at some point in their lives. It’s possible that the person you see doing a great job now was once in your position and had made mistakes. They may even continue to make mistakes today. You can use your mistakes as motivational tools rather than criticizing yourself for them. Consider them as chances to gain knowledge and improve your abilities so that you can avoid making those errors in the future.

4. Be honest

In addition to self-reflection, you can speak with a dependable coworker or superior about your feelings of incompetence. You can find support at work by having these open discussions because your coworkers might not even be aware that you’ve been struggling. These people with more experience can also offer you detailed direction and advice to assist you in developing your skills.

You can arrange a meeting with your boss or bring up the issue at performance evaluations. Ask questions like, “What skills do you think I can improve on?” or “What skills do you think would take my performance to the next level?” Your supervisor will likely appreciate that you are taking the initiative to pursue professional development instead of simply stating that you feel incompetent. Positivity about performance improvement can demonstrate your dedication to your work and interest in advancing organizational goals.

5. Take small steps toward change

To create plans for professional development, you can collaborate with your supervisor or work independently. Your supervisor may be able to give you responsibilities that will help you develop specific abilities and attitudes, or they may point you in the direction of training opportunities offered by your company. You have a variety of options for developing your skills, such as enrolling in live or recorded courses or finding a professional mentor who can give you one-on-one instruction or guidance.

It can be intimidating to try something new at first, so you can incorporate these abilities and behaviors gradually to ease into them. Lets say you want to improve your public speaking. You can practice using efficient presentation techniques with your friends and family before agreeing to speak in front of a large crowd. Even better, work on your technique alone in front of a mirror. These situations let you practice your new abilities without the stress of a formal public speaking occasion. You gradually improve your abilities and confidence in them with these small steps.

6. Commit yourself to practice

When pursuing professional development, you might continue to experience discomfort during your initial attempts. You become accustomed to performing these abilities or behaviors by consistently attempting to practice them. You can advance to the last stages of competence as you gain experience, when the actions become second nature. You eventually won’t need to focus as intently or think as much about what you are doing.

Try to apply this strategy as frequently as you can, even in small ways. Using the public speaking example from earlier, you need to practice more than just giving presentations at work. Instead, you can use the effective verbal and nonverbal communication techniques from presentations in regular conversation. When speaking to a coworker, for instance, you might concentrate on maintaining eye contact or pronouncing words clearly.

7. Monitor your progress

Track your progress in terms of skill development over the course of the four stages of competence. Use any mistakes you make along the way as a teaching moment by noting them. Knowing your weak points can help you decide where to concentrate your efforts. However, do not forget to track your achievements as well. You may be inspired to continue learning and practicing when you see your abilities developing. Your feelings of incompetence may lessen as you begin to develop confidence in these abilities.

8. Ask others for feedback

When appropriate, you might even seek out assistance from others as you continue on your path to professional development. If you discussed your feelings with a manager or coworker, ask them to help you track your development and give you feedback. For instance, if your boss suggested that you work on your communication abilities, you might ask them to evaluate how you did during a recent presentation.

Receiving feedback from others can assist you in concentrating your training and learning efforts because they may spot problem areas that you yourself did not notice. Based on where you began and their feedback, you can also determine your progress. Additionally, receiving flattering remarks can be a further motivating factor. Their viewpoints could serve as a counterbalance to any criticism or feelings of incompetence you may still harbor. Additionally, when managers observe your growth, it can give them a favorable impression of your strong work ethic.


How do you know if you’re incompetent?

7 signs you’re an “incompetent employee”
  1. That’s not my job. …
  2. Quick to blame others. …
  3. Quick to take credit for every good thing. …
  4. Make hard workers feel bad. …
  5. They think that because they are older, they don’t need to work as hard.
  6. They fight innovation and change. …
  7. Their work product is less than stellar.

What do you do when you feel inadequate at work?

9 things you can do to overcome feeling inadequate at work
  1. Redefine success. …
  2. Reflect on your achievements. …
  3. Take initiative. …
  4. Solicit feedback. …
  5. Establish a support network. …
  6. Make a plan for professional development. …
  7. Know your boundaries. …
  8. Accept that growth is a continual process.

What causes incompetence at work?

Laziness is a common contributor to incompetence and can result in mistakes, lateness, and other issues. Incompetence would be demonstrated by not double-checking your work, as anyone can do that.

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